Resilience: Disaster-Resistant, Adaptive, and Restorative Design and Planning

People all over the world are starting to see an increase in extreme and volatile weather, record-breaking “natural” disasters, shifting seasons and habitats, species losses, and dwindling resources. (These are all trends that climate scientists accurately predicted would occur as a result of high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.) This climatological and ecological instability is creating huge economic burdens and heart-breaking social disruption and dislocation, and climate projections show that the situation will almost certainly get worse.

As the costs and consequences of climate change become impossible to ignore, more people are recognizing the need to be more prepared for the challenges we’re likely to face in the short-term and the long-term (e.g., power outages, food and water shortages, or flooding from storms and sea level rise in some areas). A variety of initiatives are arising that aim to share ways of becoming more resilient—i.e., able to survive and thrive in the face of climate-related dangers. These efforts are occurring at the household, community, town, city, regional, and global levels.

Some initiatives are focused on the design of durable, climate-responsive, and disaster-resistant homes and buildings, including dwellings that can withstand hurricanes, floods, or earthquakes, or that incorporate “passive” heating or natural cooling strategies so that they can remain livable when there is no power; later this year I will post a list of companies that design and manufacturer disaster-resistant homes. Other initiatives are focused on personal or local food security; or the decentralization of energy production into localized or on-site power generation; or restoring degraded or contaminated land and habitats; or creating self-sufficient rural homesteads, self-reliant communities, and/or strong local economies.

While many of these have been grassroots efforts, the importance of resilience as a key requirement for sustainability is also beginning to be understood at an institutional, policy-making level. For example, some major cities (e.g., San Francisco, New York, Seattle) and regions (e.g., the North Bay Climate Adaptation Initiative, in the northern part of the SF Bay Area) see the writing on the wall and are actively trying to figure out how to become more adaptive and make their systems and infrastructure more robust and secure to prepare for sea level rise, floods, droughts, and other inevitable climate change impacts.

These are some noteworthy resilience-related initiatives and information resources:

  • Resilience  (a program of the Post Carbon Institute)

RDI explains resilience well: “Resilience is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption of some sort. At various levels —individuals, households, communities, and regions — through resilience we can maintain livable conditions in the event of natural disasters, loss of power, or other interruptions in normally available services.  Relative to climate change, resilience involves adaptation to the wide range of regional and localized impacts that are expected with a warming planet: more intense storms, greater precipitation, coastal and valley flooding, longer and more severe droughts in some areas, wildfires, melting permafrost, warmer temperatures, and power outages.  Resilient design is the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to the these vulnerabilities.”

The various actions that they suggest are organized into these 12 categories:

1.) Ensure that a home is safe in a storm. 2.) Build to resist or survive rain and flooding. 3.) Build super-insulated envelopes. 4.) Incorporate passive solar design in heating climates. 5.) Minimize cooling loads in cooling climates. 6.) Provide natural cooling. 7.) Maximize daylighting. 8.) Provide backup renewable energy systems. 9.) Plan for water shortages. 10.) Address fire resistance and durability. 11.) Consider resilience at the community scale. 12.) Support local food production.

  • Hunt Utilities Group (HUG): a resilient-homes research and development campus in Minnesota. (More info about them here.)
  • Mother Earth News, which focuses on modern homesteading, among other resilience-relevant topics

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February 28, 2013

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